• author
    • David Lacy

      Columnist and iPinion co-founder
    • August 21, 2014 in Columnists

    Thunder claps and closed captioning

    When my fiancée first immigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam at the age of 10, she was overwhelmed by English speech.

    Spoken English, she recalls, sounded like “sharp, rapid thunder claps” that often necessitated pressing her small hands tightly against her ears.

    She first revealed this information when I told her I thought her family — who speak Vietnamese at home — was obscenely loud. I had mentioned, jokingly, that it appeared as if, even just sitting around the dinner table, they were all arguing angrily. (On that particular occasion, it turns out they were actually discussing, quite diplomatically, spring rolls.)

    “So maybe you hear them in the same way I heard my first English,” Tawny explained. “All of the difference is heightened, exaggerated.”

    Damn, she’s smart and hot.

    Still, this completely logical explanation did little to avert our earliest repeating mini-argument: Watching films in closed caption.

    I used to loathe watching movies – especially ones I found cinematically stunning – with the captions on. I always noticed my eyes automatically snapping upward or downward to the constant presence of text, dragging my gaze away from the actors and the settings. This was particularly difficult when we used to watch movies on her small laptop and the text seemed to cloak one-third of the screen.

    Yet interestingly, even as Tawny’s English proficiency became far above average (she graduated with honors and currently attends a reputable law school), she still, occasionally struggles with unfamiliar speech patterns. Certain accents, accelerated speech, and muffled words (Bane in the third “Dark Knight” flick was even worse for Tawny than he was for the rest of us) can sometimes make it difficult for her to follow plotlines. Compound this with heavy soundtrack mixing (“The Social Network” is a particularly egregious offender of this, though I did love the film), and you have a movie that is only semi-intelligible, and therefore significantly less enjoyable.

    Also interestingly, when Tawny becomes increasingly familiar with an actor, she begins to understand them more readily.

    This is good as we both enjoy Jon Stewart and Comedy Central’s live closed captioning is shit.

    Over the past several years I’ve grown accustomed to the rapid-fire of text along the bottom of the screen. Sometimes it races a bit ahead of the spoken script and reveals a punchline or plot twist that won’t be released in audio form for another two seconds. But I’ve learned to appreciate this. I imagine I have VIP access to the show and I get mini inside looks before the rest of the world.

    I have also picked up on a number of lines and phrases I previously missed in audio-only watching. “The Social Network” in particular is rife with clever Sorkian zingers heavily drenched in Trent Reznor’s cyber-techno. “Fight Club” shares a similar benefit.

    I can now take in the entirety of a film and the captions with ease (I’m sure our 50-inch television doesn’t hurt). I’ve learned to genuinely appreciate the dual experience of captions and audio.

    But more importantly, Tawny and I are able to unwind together after a long day, the dogs resting by our feet, a glass of wine between us, and enjoy a good flick.

    And I know  that when I begin watching more Vietnamese cinema, I’ll be demanding captions.


      • Sivan Butler-Rotholz

      • August 21, 2014 at 9:21 am
      • Reply

      Compromise. The key to any strong relationship. And communication. Seems you two have these in spades. And, yes, when you watch Vietnamese cinema you’ll need those captions. 🙂


      • Ken Welton

      • August 21, 2014 at 10:20 am
      • Reply

      I love this. But, I can tell you about closed captioning. Watching american movies in Argentina with captions in Spanish and vice versa (Spanish movies with English captions) you can be assured that what you are reading is NOT what they are saying on the screen. Sometimes close though.


      • David Lacy

      • August 21, 2014 at 10:25 am
      • Reply

      In terms of subtitles, yeah, I believe that. But thanks for the kind words!



    • Loved this and I want a glass of wine and a movie right now! Also, I need captions on English movies. The Brits talk so quietly! And Yorkshire dialect!!


      • Maya North

      • August 22, 2014 at 1:23 pm
      • Reply

      Have you considered learning Vietnamese? It’s an easier language for most westerners to learn because it uses our alphabet and has accent marks to denote the inflections. I bet Tawny and her family would love to teach you 😀 I have discovered that, after learning six languages, if I listen carefully, the liquid babble of unfamiliarity does resolve into words…


      • David Lacy

      • August 22, 2014 at 2:01 pm
      • Reply

      I know some basic Vietnamese, yes. Even took a class. And I’ve spent literally hundreds of hours with her family so I’ve begun to pick up on certain things.
      What I need — what I used for German and Latin — are DAILY classes.



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